The Dubai Ports World Deal: Manna to Publicity Hound Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2006 | Go to article overview
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The Dubai Ports World Deal: Manna to Publicity Hound Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Former presidential candidate Bob Dole once quipped that "the most dangerous place in Washington is between Charles Schumer and a television camera." Indeed, the Democratic New York senator frequently schedules media appearances on Sundays, a slow news day, in hopes of getting wider television coverage.

On Feb. 13 the tireless Schumer trekked with some TV reporters to the New York harbor to discuss a pending port deal. Schumer hit a bonanza of publicity when he discussed his concerns that the Arab-owned Dubai Ports World (DPW) had purchased the British firm Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O). Schumer called the sale a "grave security risk."

The U.S. government already had vetted the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-owned company, and had said that the U.S. Coast Guard had found nothing to be alarmed about-it would remain responsible for port security. "We made sure there were assurances in place to satisfy us that the deal is appropriate from a national security standpoint," Homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff told ABC television. "The reality is the major terminal operators are all foreign-owned," Robert C. Bonner, a former top U.S. customs official, pointed out.

But Schumer and New York Republican Rep. Peter King thought otherwise, and demanded further assurances. Suddenly Schumer was off and running, moving from talk shows and back-to-back interviews-exactly what the senator from New York loves best.

Almost lost in the hue and cry was the original arrangement with tiny Dubai, an Arab emirate with an indigenous population of considerably less than 100,000 people. Nevertheless, on March 9, 2006 DPW withdrew its application to purchase the P&O shipping firm, which had agreed to the $6.8 billion takeover.

Stunned by the negative reaction, the P&O owners-primarily London investors-are looking for a new company to assume ownership of the line, even if it means a financial loss.

As a result of this fracas, Saudi Arabia has quietly begun divesting from American securities in favor of euros-a reorientation which, if it continues, could have a major impact on the world economy to the detriment of dollar-denominated credits. In the long run this could have grave financial implications far beyond the current crisis.

A Focused Rise to the Top

According to his authorized biography, publicity-hungry "Chuck" Schumer, 56, has a remarkably focused background. The class valedictorian at his high school graduation, he then went to Harvard University. He passed the state bar exam in 1975, but never practiced law. Instead, that same year he ran for and was elected to the New York State Assembly, becoming at age 23 probably the youngest member of the New York legislature since Theodore Roosevelt.

He served three terms in Albany and, in the years since, has never lost an election. He and his wife, Iris Weinshall, New York City commissioner of transportation, have two daughters, Jessica and Alison.

In 1980 Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman won the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat of Republican Jacob Javits. In that election Schumer ran for her vacated House seat, and won. While in the House of Representatives he co-authored the federal assault weapons ban in 1994, along with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He has been given much credit for the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act as well.

In 1998, after winning the Democratic senatorial primary against Mark Green and Geraldine Ferraro, Schumer went on to defeat three-term incumbent Republican Sen. Alphonse D'Amato.

Schumer currently is chairman of the 2006 Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raises funds and recruits candidates. Controversy arose last year when two of Schumer's staff employees, Katie Barge and Lauren Weiner, illegally obtained a copy of the credit report of Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, an African-American Republican senatorial candidate, using Steele's social security number.

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